Wednesday, March 30, 2016

a plateful of church leadership

My family and I live in Austin, Texas. Austin is known for many things: We are the capital city and the home of the University of Texas. At some point in time, we proclaimed ourselves the  “Live Music Capital of the World”. (I don't know if anyone outside of Austin agrees with that title, but we are very proud to call ourselves that.) 

Austin has become a home of all things cool: lots of tech industry, the South by Southwest festival, the only F1 racetrack in North America. Our town motto is “Keep Austin Weird”, which only proves Matthew McConaughey's bongo playing escapades may not be completely his fault.

Also, we are a food mecca. Austinites will wait in line two hours for the best barbecue in town. We like farm-to-table pizza places that open up on old family farms nestled in the hill country. We deep fry doughnuts and top them with maple icing and bacon, or fill them with angus beef and pimento cheese. Our cupcakes are sold out of retro trailers, our Mexican street corn is made fresh on the spot, and our gluten free brownies will win over the most gluten-friendly among us.

And this truth cannot be overstated: We live for Tex Mex.

We have shared Chuy’s with many other cities and states, and for that, we are beloved. But Austin has many, many equally delicious options. My husband and I never knew how spoiled we were by our Tex Mex abundance until we moved to Nashville nine years ago. At that time Nashville had not yet been baptised by the Tex Mex movement. They barely had tacos in Nashville back then. The only queso in town was some kind of strange melted white american cheese. It was a sad, sad reality we faced.

We became food evangelists, inviting people over and making green chili enchiladas and real queso for them. Nashville is where I learned that new friends are best won with open doors and lots of enchiladas with creamy jalapeno. For almost two years our kitchen was the only Tex Mex place we could find in town.

Then we moved back to Austin to pastor a church. For the first year we were in Austin, we ate Tex Mex every time we went out to dinner. Every. Single. Time. We had crossed over into the glory land.

We also threw ourselves into the crazy world of church leadership. Our church was struggling. We prayed and fasted with the biggest faith we could muster, cheered on all the people around us, read a million leadership books, begged Jesus to help us, lead us, to save His church. We worked sixty or eighty or whatever-it-took hour weeks. Through many miracles and after countless lessons, Mosaic became a thriving, growing, beautifully diverse church of people who love Jesus and are on a mission to see our city changed by the gospel. It is nothing short of miraculous.

But we are also a little tired. Okay, maybe a lot tired. Weary bones have become a treasure to us, though. Because they force us deeper into Christ, teaching us precious lessons.

Not surprisingly, I learned one in the middle of a Tex Mex restaurant. We were a few years into leading the church, when I sat at a table with one of my dearest friends and she asked me, “What’s it like to be a pastor’s wife?”

I stared at the plate in front of me, queso bowl empty, enchiladas long gone. I noticed the copious serving of rice and beans still sitting there. As usual, I had only slightly picked at that obligatory Tex Mex side dish. The truth hit me loud and clear, like a Mariachi band right in my face.

“Being married to a pastor is like being rice and beans on a plate of Tex Mex. Nobody ordered me, I just came with my husband when they hired him. Everyone still expects me to be there, but not many people really care if I’m all that amazing. They just hope I’m not terrible, you know?”

That one moment was the crystallization of many emotions and thoughts I had carried for a long time. We both kind of glanced around at all the tables around us. On every table there were plates with unwanted rice and beans in clear view.

Then she stared me in the eye and said, “But you’re not rice and beans. You’re tableside guacamole.

She is an irreplaceable friend. 

A tiny switch inside me flipped on and I began to try this new idea of redefining and renaming my own fears and insecurities. Bit by bit, life tries to twist our stories with the pressure and pain we must endure. I am learning that we can rewrite many of the lines we are given.

I was stuck in a narrative of fear. I didn’t have to stay there.

I had forgotten for a little while that as God's children, we are the Made Ones. We are the carved-from-love, God-breathed, creative masterpieces of a poet God whose spoken word birthed science and matter and time itself. God doesn't make Rice and Beans People. He's not a chef trying to fill a plate.

He is Love. He is Glorious. He is a Father and a King with eternity offered from His hand.

This whole Pastor's Wife thing, it wasn't really about me. It was simply what He had asked me to do out of my love for Him and for His Church.

One of the greatest blessings of our faith is the way everything heavy and sad becomes lighter and more bearable in the Light of the Gospel. We feel like like Rice and Beans because, just like we offered Nashville our decent copies of Tex Mex, God is opening up the doors of His Church and offering us (hopefully as decent copies of His Son) to the world. We are the real queso and guacamole and creamy jalapeno that can change our cities. 

Someday we are all heading home to the true Gloryland. I don't know about you, but I want to make it there with my pockets empty of fears and regrets, and my soul full of Jesus. 

But for a little while longer, we have some work to do....

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